Yesterday, I wrote a blog post on whether and to what extend the PostgreSQL community is a welcoming community, in which I quoted some remarks that Selena Deckelmann made, and she responded with her own post on where meritocracy fails. I want to just recap a few things that may not be totally obvious to casual observers of our community; and then I have a few remarks about meritocracy.
For the last three PostgreSQL release cycles (8.4, 9.0, and the current 9.1 cycle), we've used a vehicle called CommitFests to ensure that people's patches are reviewed in a timely fashion. Up until we reach feature freeze for a given release, we have a series of CommitFests. CommitFests begin once every two months (e.g., for 9.1, July 15, September 15, November 15, and January 15) and last about a month. Our commitment, as a community, is to review all patches submitted prior to the start of the CommitFest before the end of the CommitFest, and to commit those that are in sufficiently good shape. We don't always meet that goal, but we come close. At the end of the last CommitFest, we enter feature freeze and start preparing for beta.
So, for example, if you submitted a patch on July 1st, it would be reviewed between July 15th and August 14th - generally towards the beginning of that time period. If you submitted a patch on July 16th, it would have been late for the July CommitFest, so it would get reviewed during the September CommitFest, so somewhere between September 15th and October 14th and, again, usually more towards the beginning of that time period.
This accomplishes a couple of useful things:
1. Patches get reviewed in a reasonably timely fashion. Before we started having CommitFests, patches were much more likely to get lost in the shuffle, or sometimes, just ignored. That is now quite rare.
2. We have a formal process for encouraging people to review patches written by others, rather than working only on their own stuff. While we could really, really use more reviewers, it's still an improvement over the old way, where the committers were basically expected to carry the full load.
3. The deadlines for patch submission are known at the beginning of the release cycle, so contributors can have a reasonably good idea when their patch might appear in an official release. (Unfortunately, this also leads to a significant amount of "piling on" during the last CommitFest, when everyone who hasn't gotten around to submitting their work for that release suddenly pulls out all the stops, resulting in a massive influx of patches - but it's still better than making up the schedule as we go along.)
We traditionally have not begun the next release cycle until the previous cycle is completed, so there is a long period at the end of the release cycle during which there are no CommitFests. This is a problem, because it leads to long delays in reviewing and committing patches, but it's not clear what to do about it. During the 9.0 cycle, we experimented with starting the 9.1 cycle when 9.0 reached beta3. That was reasonably successful, but our community is small enough that it really is somewhat challenging to do two things at once - or three, really, because we were also in the midst of migrating from CVS to git just as all of this was going on.
Now, on to meritocracy. I haven't actually talked to Ed about what he meant by the remark about meritocracy, but here's my take on it: Selena is absolutely right to point out that most contributors reach their position not only through their own merit, but also because we happen to be well-educated and have good support structures around us that enable us to earn a living and still have time left over to answer questions on the mailing list at 11pm on a Thursday. Not everyone is so lucky, and I know I'm not always as mindful of my good fortune as I ought to be, and I agree with Selena's point that we should be thoughtful about reaching out to people who might be outside our usual demographic but who can contribute in meaningful ways.
All that having been said, I believe that one of the great strengths of our community is that, by and large, we judge people on the merits of their contributions rather than their race, sex, age, marital status, level of personal wealth or educational attainment, or other ancillary characteristics. I'm not going to claim that we do this perfectly - I think we occasionally get sucked into attacking an idea based on the way it's presented rather than on how good it actually is - but we do try, and I think that's a good thing.